A parallel to how Scripture views terms such as religion or religious would be terms such as politics and political. Politics are important, in their own way, since “politics” is how a culture translates moral and ethical beliefs into laws and government.
A person can be “political” while maintaining a sense that political parties, laws, and elected officials are not literally the most important things at stake. They are means to an end, not the ends themselves.
A person who derives his fundamental meaning and purpose from the mechanics of partisan politics isn’t political so much as unbalanced, given his misplaced priorities.
Religion, in the same way, can be warped when it becomes its own focus. Those details matter, but they are not faith entire.
This, again, was a key aspect of Christ’s teaching. It made up the bulk of His routine scolding of His era’s religious leaders, whose priorities were just as misplaced as some of today’s partisans (see Luke 11:52).
Rituals, prayers, denominations, or other “lived” aspects of faith becoming gods unto themselves is the kind of “religion” against which Scripture speaks (Titus 3:5; Romans 3:20). 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
For this reason, Christians sometimes quip that “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship.” Of course, using the broadest definition of religion, the word accurately applies to following Jesus.
And yet, believers are meant to understand how behaviors and attitudes should flow both from and toward the person of Jesus Christ. So far as that understanding exists, Christianity is fundamentally different from every other “religion” in the world.
True religion does have rules and rituals, but there is a crucial difference. In true religion, the rules and rituals are observed out of gratitude for the salvation God has provided – NOT in an effort to obtain that salvation.
True religion, which is Biblical Christianity, has rules to obey (do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not lie, etc.) and rituals to observe (water baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper / Communion).
Observance of these rules and rituals is not what makes a person right with God. Rather, these rules and rituals are the RESULT of the relationship with God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone as the Savior. False religion is doing things (rules and rituals) in order to try to earn God’s favor.
True religion is receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and thereby having a right relationship with God – and then doing things (rules and rituals) out of love for God and desire to grow closer to Him.